Mark Reads ‘Small Gods’: Part 10

In the tenth part of Small Gods, Brutha makes an important decision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.

You know, I don’t quite have a sense for how far Small Gods is going to go with this story, but this specific part of the book gives me a glimpse of an entirely new direction, one that seems so ambitious and absurd that I think Pratchett might actually pull it off. But before we even get to that moment, this is still a huge turning point in the novel. We open on the imminent destruction of the Ephebian library (which I still think is a reference to the library in Alexandria), where the group discovers that there is a ridiculous method that they can use to save all the books and scrolls that Vorbis will ultimately have destroyed.

They use Brutha’s brain.

Now, it’s not like they trust Brutha as the audience does, and I appreciated that Pratchett did not make this easy for these characters. None of them know Brutha very well, first of all, and they’re utterly unaware of the epic nightmare that he’s wrapped up in. To Sergeant Simony, Brutha is simply Vorbis’s newest right-hand man. To Didactylos, he’s a stranger. And hell, Simony is a stranger to Urn and Didactylos at the beginning of this section, too! They can’t just offer their trust to someone just because they know the phrase, “The turtles moves!”

And yet, most likely out of sheer desperation, they come to trust one another for the time being. That trust is a tenuous thing at best. When Brutha reveals that he plans to memorize as many texts as possible – and even when he proves that his skill is real – this still doesn’t calm his new companions all that much. It’s not until Brutha passes out and awakes hours later, the library burnt down by Didactylos, that these four people being to view the future with a sense of hope.

That’s what I wanted to focus the bulk of this review on. There are some utterly fascinating reactions within this section, and one of them is from Brutha himself. What’s so striking about these characters is how much they’ve lived within a system that crushes hope within them. The very fact that a motor boat instills them all with a sense of wonder and shock is evidence enough of how rare this is for them. That’s not to suggest that there is no value in discovery all on its own, but the context of these people’s lives matters. They see possibilities that never once were possible because the Omnian religion doesn’t allow for one to think about possibilities.

Well, not quite. One person is allowed to do whatever they want.

“Suppose he’d read the scrolls? He’s bad enough as it is. He’d be a lot worse with all that knowledge inside him.”

“He wouldn’t have read them,” said Brutha.

“Oh, he would. I know that type,” said Didactylos. “All holy piety in public, and all peeled grapes and self-indulgence in private.”

It’s an archetype that many of us are ready to identify because we’ve known this kind of person. While Didactylos has only had one interaction with Vorbis, he is, like the others, quick to get as far away from the monster as possible. And for a brief moment, I thought we’d be returning to Ankh-Morpork, where the small gods reign free alongside a billion other ideas.

But oh no. NOPE. And here’s where Pratchett takes this story in an unexpected direction:

“Vorbis has many enemies,” he said, “in certain circumstances. Better he should be killed, but some would call that murder. Or even martyrdom. But a trial… if there was evidence… if they even thought there could be evidence…”

The group has amidst them someone with a demonstrated ability to remember absolutely everything that he experiences. Everything. Which means he could theoretically testify against Vorbis and recall everything Vorbis has said and done in his presence with brutal accuracy. And while Brutha isn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of this, he does know that Vorbis is… well, wrong.

He thought: the worst thing about Vorbis isn’t that he’s evil, but that he makes good people do evil. He turns people into things like himself. You can’t help it. You catch it off him.

And sometimes, that “evil” is asking soldiers to willingly kill themselves, all because he insists that Om will “protect the strong in faith.”

Mark Links Stuff

– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S. this summer and fall Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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